Canadiens.com tracked down the "Roadrunner", Yvan Cournoyer, just before his big jersey retirement night on Nov. 12 at the Bell Centre. He told it like it was when we asked him 12 questions.
Canadiens.com: So how did you end up wearing the No. 12?
Yvan Cournoyer: Like for Dickie [Moore], it was the number given to me.
Canadiens.com: What does No. 12 mean to you now?
YC: Now I have it everywhere. My old brasserie's phone number was 637-1212 and my current cell number has a 12 in it, too. It's just become part of who I am.
Canadiens.com: You won 10 Stanley Cups, one shy of Henri Richard's league record of 11. Does one of them mean a little more to you?
YC: Even though the one in 1973 was special because I also won the Conn Smythe Trophy [as playoff MVP] that year, you really can't beat that first time you finally lift it over your head. Even though I was a rookie back in 1965 and I didn't get that much playing time, you only win that first one once.
Canadiens.com: What team did you hate facing the most?
YC: In those days you played everyone 14 times! So it didn't take long for you to hate everyone you played against. But the Maple Leafs were always the big one. The rivalry was bigger than the two teams, it was also about the two cities. Even to this day, Toronto fans are just too much. I'm telling you, the Maple Leafs must lead the league in Stanley Cups won before the season even starts!
Canadiens.com: What was like to play in 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union?
YC: People think we exaggerate when we say it was like a war out there but that's exactly what it was. It was more than just a series of eight hockey games. It was a clash of different ideals and ways of life. It was an amazing experience and something I'll never forget.
Canadiens.com: You were recently invited back to Russia to celebrate the 30th anniversary of that historic series, how was that?
YC: When I heard that I was the only Canadian player invited to attend, I figured it was because my name was Yvan and it sounds Russian. Seriously, it was a real honor and my wife and I had a wonderful time there. Let's just say I was received a lot more warmly now than back in 1972 when it wasn't safe for our team to walk the streets.
Canadiens.com: You had to be patient when you were just breaking in as a 20-year-old rookie back in the mid 1960s. What do you think about the many Canadiens rookies given the chance to contribute this year?
YC: It's the way it should be. When I first came in, veterans like Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard were there to show me the way, and then it was up to me years later to welcome young players like Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson. Young players coming up through the system are the foundation of your franchise.
Canadiens.com: What do think of the new NHL?
YC: It's just terrific. To be brutally honest, I had trouble sitting though three whole periods in recent years, but now when the games are over, I wish there was a fourth period. You already see a change happening where if you can't skate, you won't be able to keep up and you won't be in the NHL for long. That's how it should be.
Canadiens.com: Many think there are too many penalties being called this year, do you agree?
YC: Believe me, it's a lot easier, especially for a bigger player, to just reach out and grab hold of a guy. Now, you have to catch them first and if you want to stop someone, your feet can never stop moving. It's just going to take some time for everyone to adapt. Sure. there are a lot power-plays now, but you would never hear me complaining if I was still playing today. I spent most of my early years as a power-play specialist so I would never get off the ice the way the games are being called now!
Canadiens.com: So do you think the year-long NHL Lockout was worth it?
YC: Absolutely. Sure, it was a terrible thing not to have NHL hockey for an entire season, but the game has truly reinvented itself. Had they only wiped out half of the season there is no way there would have been such major changes made to the game. It was a terrible price to pay, but so far at least, it's been worth it.
Canadiens.com: What player on the Canadiens' current roster impresses you the most?
YC: I'm a big speed and skating guy so I'm amazed by how well Chris Higgins has played so far. He's a really good skater and I like his toughness, too. He doesn't let himself get pushed around out there.
Canadiens.com: How are you keeping busy these days?
YC: My role as a Canadiens Ambassador has me traveling a lot. I was in Toronto just last week on business. I've always said that I joined the Canadiens when I was 17 and my career ended a little early at age 35 but this franchise has always been my family. I walk into the Bell Centre today and it feels like home to me.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.